Panther trio hope for transferable skills in Iowa

By Andy Darley

CalendarThursday, June 18th, 2009

 
 

Last year, Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar Iowa race for his old team while his new team, Panther, won the Indy Lights race with a driver, Dillon Battistini, who has since left.

This year the team hopes to assemble those elements into a winning combination for its trio of English racers – Wheldon in the senior series, Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann in the junior.

So far this season Wheldon has built a streak of five consecutive top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in the 93rd Indianapolis 500, which has put him sixth in the title hunt.

While better than Panther has been used to in recent years, that’s not good enough for Wheldon in his return to the team after leaving front-runner Ganassi at the end of last season.

During the run-up to the Indy 500 he said: “I don’t like not being at the front, that’s what I’m going to work hard towards. I certainly believed I would be a contender from the get-go, so that’s incredibly frustrating, but we’ll fix it.

“We’ve got more budget than ever, but it takes time. To tell you the truth, it probably has taken more time than I thought it would, but it doesn’t stop me trying.”

Looking ahead to Iowa he said: “The key for us is if we’ve got a chance to win a race, we have to take advantage. The Panther Racing guys have been working very hard on the National Guard car and we’re continuing to get better.

“It’s always a nice feeling going back to a track were you’ve won, and Iowa is going to be a very competitive race. They key here is having a car that works well through turns one and two, and if you’re good through there then Iowa is a fun place to race.

“I figured I had to win the race last year after crashing on the first lap two years ago. Last year I was actually quicker with old tires if that makes sense. I was a lot slower after our pit stops so we decided to not stop late in the race and leave the old tires on.”

Panther’s Indy Lights pairing of Mann and Plowman have not yet had the success that their fast pace in pre-season testing seemed to promise, but both are hopeful that the lessons learned last year from Battistini’s win will feed into this year’s set-up.

Plowman said: “I’m looking forward for the race in Iowa. Looking at last year’s results I know Panther has a good setup there and this gives me the confidence I need going into a track that is new for me. It’s another short oval but not like Milwaukee, this one is similar to the speedways that I’m more used to.

“I really want to use this race as a spring board to get back in the championship fight. So far we had a bit of bad luck but I know that Panther Racing is a good team and that we have speed and what it takes to get a big result.”

Mann scored a season-best ninth place in Milwaukee and hopes to build on it in Iowa: “Milwaukee was my first short track experience and that turned out pretty well with a top 10 finish, so I’m confident going into Iowa that we will have a good weekend.

“Panther raced exceptionally well there winning the race last season with one car and finishing in fourth position with the other. Having a good base setup helps a lot when you go to a track that you never raced before, so I’m looking forward into this race to bring the car home with a good result and help us build our points in the championship.”

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